The New Zealand Health Ministry is calling on the public to remain vigilant for meningococcal disease as three confirmed cases were reported in the first week of 2019 and two more are under investigation.

Image/Robert Herriman
Image/Robert Herriman

The confirmed cases were due to the B and C strains.

In Northland, a targeted vaccination programme is underway after a local outbreak of Men W late last year. The Ministry of Health and Northland DHB continue to work closely together to ensure the best response to this outbreak.

The Ministry also continues to work with other district health boards and closely monitor meningococcal disease cases nationwide, including for strains A,B,C,W and Y.

According to a Ministry news release:

The bacteria which cause meningococcal disease can be spread from person-to-person by respiratory and throat secretions (e.g. saliva and spit). However, the bacteria are not easily spread and generally require close and prolonged contact with a person carrying the bacteria (who is usually completely well). 

Therefore, we recommend covering your nose or mouth when you sneeze or cough, and washing and drying your hands afterwards. Also, avoid sharing the same eating or drinking utensils, toothbrushes and pacifiers.

Meningococcal disease is a bacterial infection that causes some very serious illnesses, including meningitis (an infection of the membranes that cover the brain) and septicaemia (blood poisoning). The disease can develop very quickly, causing death or permanent disability. Early treatment with antibiotics is vital.

Meningococcal disease can be difficult to diagnose because it can look like other illnesses, such as the flu. Symptoms can develop suddenly and include a high fever, headache, sleepiness, joint and muscle pains.

There can also be some more specific symptoms, such as a stiff neck, dislike of bright lights, vomiting, crying, refusal to feed (in infants) and a rash consisting of reddish-purple pin-prick spots or bruises.

Last year, 120 meningococcal cases including 10 deaths were reported.